By Zeke Stephenson
I am now an active participant in my third Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church in my fairly short lifetime, and all three churches have been very different. This is the beauty, I think, of this Fellowship that I have called home for the last twenty-four years of my life. I am currently serving as the Youth Ministry Associate at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Georgia.
Every week that I walk into the Youth Wing at FBC Gainesville, I am always blown away by the diversity of students that it inhabits. It includes students of different color, background, culture and socio-economic status. These are just a few of the labels that make this group of students so different, and it is beautiful to see them all come together, loving one another and building community with each other. This group of students loves and supports one another and they help each other along through the struggles of their lives. This group of students also celebrates together in the triumphs in their lives.
I get the same feeling when I walk into the sanctuary of the church. There are obvious differences in people, but what I am most fascinated with is the differences in the outlooks of the congregants. Worshiping side by side, we have people who are very conservative and people who are very liberal. We have people who have certain opinions of any given topic, sitting beside someone who has the complete opposite opinion of the very same topic.
I believe that this is true of CBF. Churches from all different backgrounds and beliefs find shelter in this Fellowship. The most rural of churches can stand side-by-side with the most urban of churches. The smallest of churches can be in community with the largest of churches. We all have something to teach, and we all have something to learn.
Our pastor, Dr. Bill Coates, once said this in a sermon: “I just want to love everybody.”
In my opinion, this is the glue that holds this Fellowship together. We are committed to loving people and meeting them where they are. It doesn’t matter how a church gets there, but if we all stay under the umbrella of love, then the rest doesn’t really matter. I too, want to be known for loving everybody. Loving the people that I sit beside in class each day, people that I interact with in church on Sundays, every single teenager that walks through the doors for youth events, even the stranger that I encounter in the grocery store check out line. It is my hope and prayer that all of God’s people will have a desire to “just want to love everybody.”
Zeke Stephenson is a CBF Leadership Scholar attending McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta, Ga. He also serves as the Youth Ministry Associate at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga.